Despite stormy weather, Duke track and field impresses at Duke Invitational

Graduate student Robbie Otal placed first in the discus Thursday at the Duke Invitational.
Graduate student Robbie Otal placed first in the discus Thursday at the Duke Invitational.

During the spring, April Showers can wreak havoc on all outdoor sports. However, on a cold, wet and windy weekend, Duke’s track and field team still showed out.

The Duke Invitational in Durham saw the cancellation of several events Friday and scratches by notable Duke runners, yet the Blue Devils did not let the poor weather conditions halt their growing momentum in the outdoor season. Duke garnered 23 top-five finishes at Morris Williams Stadium and impressed against competition from all over the East Coast, including several ACC competitors.

“[I’m] just really proud of the way they came out and did their best to compete under the conditions,” said head coach Shawn Wilbourn. “It was tough for anybody to stay out [there], but I thought our kids supported each other well.” 

Wilbourn also remarked on the Blue Devils’ opportunity to host a meet for the only time this year, noting how the presence of family and home-field advantage was enjoyable. 

“I told the entire team, we’re obviously aware that the conditions are not ideal,” said distance coach Angela Reckart. “But I think it’s a healthy approach… to go into a competition and just [say], ‘Listen, I’m going to compete to win.’”

Duke’s freshmen were on full display for much of the weekend. Guinness Brown earned a fourth-place showing in both the 200m and 400m dash, while Lauren Tolbert finished fifth in the 800m invite. Meanwhile, Julia Jackson had a field day in sprints. She notched a third-place finish in the 200m and narrowly scraped by Duke alum Britanny Aveni on the final leg of the 400m race, earning first place.

“She’s solidified her spot on [the 4x400m] relay team, and as a freshman, just to see her run with that type of confidence, it’s been a really good thing,” Wilbourn noted of Jackson.

The Blue Devil women had six runners place in the top 10 of the 200m dash, including sophomore Megan McGinnis, who finished second behind Aveni with a personal best time of 23.68. Two of the top-three placements in the 400m hurdles went to senior Arianna Gragg (second) and Meredith Sims (third). In the pole vault, sophomore Page Sommers earned second place with a 4.30m leap.

The Blue Devils’ distance runners also performed well at the Duke Invitational, highlighted by sophomore Amina Maatoug’s second-place finish in the 1500m invite, her first race since the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.

“The goal for the weekend was [for Amina] to pull up, get a rust-buster out of the way,” said Reckart. “She is fired up after the indoor season … and I know she’s ready to do some more damage.” Reckart noted that Maatoug would likely focus primarily on the 1500m event this spring. 

Other distance standouts included Jackson Walker, who finished fifth in the 800m invite, and Kelli Wilson, who placed fifth in the 5000m.

The men’s team had several standouts, including Sam Rivera, who captured a third-place finish in the 5000m. Robbie Otal and Maxwell Forte put on impressive performances in the discus and the decathlon, respectively, leading to first-place showings for both.

“Our men’s team is really starting to shine,” said Wilbourn, noting the Blue Devils’ presence in throws and distance, as well as Brown’s sprinting. “[I’m] looking forward to seeing how the men do at ACCs.”

The resilience of both teams in subpar weather seems to have boosted their confidence. The women’s team showed why it is a favorite for the ACC title and the men’s team’s impressive outing keeps it on the path to greatly improve upon its 13th-place finish from the indoor season. 

Next week, Duke will travel to Walnut, Calif., to compete in the Mt. Sac Relays, where both teams will attempt to prove their value against conference opponents.

“All of our ACC kids will compete in [Mt. Sac],” Wilbourn stated. “It will [be] ... a prelude to what we’re looking for as we go into ACCs and NCAAs.”

Sophie Levenson contributed reporting.


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